Macron says ‘Non’ to long Brexit extension as European elections loom
Tusk admits delay is ‘a little bit shorter than expected’ and tells UK ‘do not waste it’
French president Emmanuel Macron with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar after the special EU summit in Brussels. Photograph: EPA/Stephanie Lecocq
Channelling his inner Charles de Gaulle, Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday night said a firm Non to fellow EU leaders and Theresa May, singlehandedly holding out for a limited Brexit extension of only six months.
Exasperated officials tweeted from the summit conference hall about what they said was Mr Macron’s stubborn refusal to compromise. In the end he prevailed, insisting that the only way to apply real pressure on MPs to vote for a deal was setting a relatively short extension until October 31st.
The meeting, which lasted until 1 am, accepted Mrs May’s insistence that the UK would be allowed to leave the union as soon as MPs accepted the withdrawal agreement. She hopes to be able to get agreement in time - by May 22nd -to cancel the UK participation in European Parliament elections.
Leaders are understood to be sceptical she can meet this deadline and expect the UK to be fully involved in the elections.
Mr Macron said early on Thursday he took responsibility for blocking a long Brexit delay and convincing other EU leaders to agree to a shorter one in order to preserve the functioning of the EU.
“It’s true that the majority was more in favour of a very long extension. But it was not logical in my view, and above all, it was neither good for us, nor for the UK,” he said.
“I take responsibility for this position, I think it’s for the collective good,” he added before leaving the European Council in Brussels.
Speaking to the press following the meeting, Council president Donald Tusk said what happens now “is entirely in the UK’s hands”.
He said the decision was “as flexible as I expected and a little bit shorter than expected, but still enough time... To our British friends, do not waste it”.
Asked if he was disappointed by the shortness of the extension, Mr Tusk said “it is always better to have a piece of something, than all of nothing.” The six months was enough time for a solution to be found.
Would October see another similar occasion when the union was asked again to authorize a further extension?
“It is our intention to finalise the process in October,” Mr Tusk said but he admitted that he was “too old to exclude another scenario”.
He insisted the June review proposed in the conclusions would not be “another cliff edge… The intention in June is not to discuss but inform” member states about the state of the British debate.
Commission president Jean Claude Juncker welcomed the endorsement in the conclusions of more regular meetings of the 27 to plan for the future without the British present.
There was a precedent in the Eurogroup, he said, which allowed member states with a common interest to speak together while preserving the coherence of the union’s decision making. The Eurogroup brings together the 19 states in the eurozone but its decisions have to be endorsed by all the union.
Mr Junker told the press conference “to have Brexit with no deal would be a total disaster, everyone knows that. So we have to do everything we can to avoid a (no) deal.”
He pointed out: “I have to leave my job on November 1st this year. So my guess would be that we will not have another night session because if we have I would have to leave the meeting at midnight.”
The document of conclusions agreed by EU leaders said the UK had committed to acting in a “constructive and responsible manner” throughout the extension period.
It added: “To this effect, the United Kingdom shall facilitate the achievement of the Union’s tasks and refrain from any measure which could jeopardise the attainment of the Union’s objectives, in particular when participating in the decision-making processes of the Union.
“The European Council stresses that such an extension cannot be used to start negotiations on the future relationship.
“However, if the position of the United Kingdom were to evolve, the European Council is prepared to reconsider the Political Declaration on the future relationship in accordance with the positions and principles stated in its guidelines and statements, including as regards the territorial scope of the future relationship.”